Chronic alcohol and drug use can lead to a cycle of addiction which has serious implications for our society and the families and friends of the drug affected person. Our Addiction group investigates how alcohol and drugs can change the brain’s structure, chemistry and function. Genetic approaches combined with animal models of drug-seeking and relapse can help examine neural pathways implicated in drug seeking behaviour. The latter aspect is of critical importance as the defining feature of addiction is the chronic and relapsing nature of the disorder.

Many brain disorders, including schizophrenia, mental retardation and autism, involve abnormal development and function of the brain. In a condition like schizophrenia, the experience of loss of contact with reality for sufferers can be intolerable, and also devastating for family and friends. The Neural Plasticity group is interested in the mechanisms whereby the genes underlying maturation of the brain in conditions like schizophrenia, Rett syndrome (autistic spectrum disorder) and Williams syndrome (another disorder of brain development) are regulated by interaction with the environment.

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an inherited single-gene abnormality that causes neurons in the brain to become dysfunctional and eventually die. The condition involves cognitive deficits (culminating in dementia), psychiatric symptoms (eg depression) and movement disorders (eg chorea). HD is one of the increasing numbers of fatal brain diseases known to be caused by expanding DNA (a ‘genetic stutter’) in the disease genes. Our research into HD has shown for the first time that depression in HD can be modelled, and ameliorated by enhanced mental and physical activity. We have also identified key molecules involved in the psychiatric elements of the disorder. This will have implications not only for HD, but for depression in the wider community.

Collaborative Links

National

Prof Andrew Lawrence
The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

Prof Colin Masters
University of Melbourne
Biomarkers in MCI

Prof Chris Rowe
Austin Health
PET biomarkers in neurodegenerative diseases

Dr Victor Villemagne
Austin Health
PET biomarkers in neurodegenerative diseases

A/Prof Gary Egan
The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
Magnetic Resonance Imaging of a mouse model of Huntington’s disease

Prof Patrick Tam and Dr Greg Pelka
Children’s Medical Research Institute and University of Sydney, Sydney 
Characterisation of a mouse model of Rett syndrome

Prof Edna Hardeman and Dr Stephen Palmer
University of New South Wales, Sydney
Characterisation of a mouse model of Williams syndrome

A/Prof Maarten van den Buuse
Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria
Pre-pulse inhibition in a mouse model of schizophrenia

A/Prof Brian Dean and Dr Elizabeth Scarr
The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
Neuronal signalling proteins in schizophrenia

Dr Erica Fletcher
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Melbourne
Retinal abnormalities in a mouse model of HD

A/Prof. Xiao-Jun Du
Baker-IDI, Melbourne
Cardiovascular abnormalities in a mouse model of HD

International

Prof John Waddington
Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland
Mechanism of dystonia in ADNFLE models and cell ablation models of Huntington’s disease. Molecular mechanisms of D1 epileptogenesis.

Prof Ann Graybiel, MIT, Boston, USA
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Building E25, Room 618,MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139,USA.
Studies to identify the anatomical substratum of dystonia and Parkinsonism; the value of regional specific D1 dopamine receptor positive cell ablation mice AND disruption of the striosome matrix architecture in D1 dopamine receptor-expressing cell ablation mutants.

Prof Satoshi Goto, Department of Neurosurgery, Kumamoto University Medical School, Kumamoto, Japan
Studies to identify the anatomical substratum of dystonia and Parkinsonism; the value of regional specific D1 dopamine receptor positive cell ablation mice AND disruption of the striosome matrix architecture in D1 dopamine receptor-expressing cell ablation mutants.

Prof Richard Faull and Dr Michelle Glass 
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Cannabinoid receptors in Huntington’s disease

A/Prof Jang-Ho Cha
Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, Boston, USA
Activity-dependent neurotransmitter receptor expression in Huntington’s disease

Dr Ghazaleh Sadri-Vakili
Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, Boston, USA
Epigenetics in the healthy and diseased brain

A/Prof Ruth Luthi-Carter
Brain Mind Institute, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland
Molecular correlates of environmental enrichment in Huntington’s disease

Dr Caitlin McOmish
Columbia University, USA
Behavioural and pharmacological analysis of a model of schizophrenia